STAFF REVIEW of PAC-MAN 256 (Xbox One)

Monday, June 27, 2016.
by Brent Roberts

PAC-MAN 256 Box art Since the birth of video games decades ago, and probably well before most of you reading this were even born, video games were simple. We didn't have to worry about checkpoints, K/D ratios, story, graphics, and so on. All we had to be concerned with was having fun. Back then, over a partially eaten pizza, lightning struck the gaming world and Pac-Man was born. Over the decades, Pac-Man has seen everything from merchandising to various takes on his iconic layout, sound, and graphics. Most recently, and in my possession, I welcome you to what literally could be called one of the best iterations of Pac-Man to ever happen; Pac-Man 256. For $4.99 it's already priced to sell, but should you toss down the cash? Wakka Wakka everyone.

Pac-Man 256 is literally a revolutionary way to play and experience Pac-Man. There isn't a story because Pac-Man has always been about scoring higher than your opponent, not about saving a princess from a castle, or saving the universe from destruction. It was simple back then, and developers Hipster Whale have thankfully kept it simple now. From the beginning you will have the choice of either single player or local multiplayer action. I wish there was support for Xbox Live multiplayer, but hopefully they do a direct sequel to this with it included; however, the joy that's found isn't the fact that there's no story, it's all about the gameplay.

Each time you set off in Pac-Man 256 you experience a new and ever changing maze of twists, turns, and straights that are set in a semi-top down skewed viewpoint. The key to the game is survival, which is even harder to do now when you have a game over screen that not only digitizes the board as it creeps along towards you, but also disorients the screen and audio through static and other nostalgic treats of sound. The closer the looming kill screen that chases you, the more distortion you will pick up, and if you dawdle too long then your Pac-Man will perish. This forces you forward through the maze and you have to adapt on the fly. This ever changing experience is what keeps Pac-Man 256 always entertaining and a massive value for only $4.99.

Normally a dramatic shift would be the only change; however, developers Hipster Whale have pushed the boundaries even further. Now Pac-Man has power-ups! Yes, Pac-Man can now carry up to three primary power-ups to help along the way. These range from laser beams that are straight line death rays that take out ghosts to tornadoes that start sending Pinky, Blinky, Clyde and crew back to Oz. Pac-Man even has an ability called 'Pac-Men" which sends out smaller clones of himself to attack ghosts, Stealth, and so much more. These are primarily unlocked through the over-consumption of pellets, and some of them take a very, very long time to unlock. Like I mentioned earlier, you can select up to three primary power-ups and throughout the level you may find a few different ones that will allow you to try them out before you even unlock them.

These powerups are a great tool to have and unlock, but the real joy is when you get to upgrade them. During your adventures you will come across different colored coins (yellow and a brownish red color). It's these coins that you will be able to spend on upgrading your power-ups. The first few upgrades aren't much in terms of cost, but when you start going for the max levels you'll be looking at dropping at least a few thousand, and when you only collect between 2 and 5 coins at a time, guess what you'll be playing for a very long time?

To help speed things up, if you complete challenges set before you, you can also earn different amounts of coins that range from 256 all the way to over 1,000. I've found that it's more based on performance, so if you have a really terrible run, then you're at the bottom of the scale when it comes to rewards, but go on a 10 min rampage through the game and your rewards will be tremendous.

All of these innovations are amazing to include in a Pac-Man game, but in Pac-Man 256 the innovation continues into the graphics realm. On the bottom left side of the main menu you will notice a Pac-Man symbol. Select it and you will be able to choose from a variety of different level layouts including office, cube, vintage 80's, and many more. These help keep the gameplay fresh as well, because let me tell you that there's nothing more enjoyable than when you have a red office chair wheeling itself after you. Even when your character dies, it explodes into a ton of pixel cubes instead of just folding back onto itself. On top of all of this, the opening intro jingle even got remixed into a downtempo hip hop beat that provided some funk and fun, mixed in with the classic "wakka wakka" sound and corresponding sound effects.

It really goes without saying that Pac-Man 256 is nothing short of an innovative homage to a classic masterpiece that is simply enjoyable gaming. With more innovation in this $4.99 release than we have ever seen, Hipster Whale has seemingly reinvented the wheel and we couldn't be happier about it. There are full retail games, including other ID@Xbox games that try to give you more, but fail at delivering such a quality gaming experience at a cost three times as much. Not here though, as Pac-Man 256 is another gem priced below the cost of a value meal at McDonalds that could quite possibly be the best value per dollar in gaming today, and I'm loving it.

Please add Xbox Live multiplayer support!

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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